Thank You Letter
Uganda Red Cross Society—Kyangwali Refugees Settlement
PO BOX 360 Hoima (Uganda)
Date: 28, July 2010
TO: Contributors to Refugees Read, Inc.
CC: - Uganda Red Cross Society (URCS) Hoima Branch
- United Nation High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR)
- Office of the Prime Minister (OPM)
- Action Afrika Hilfe (AAH)
- Finnish Refugee Council (FRC)
- Norwegian Refugee Council (NFC)
- Right to Play
- St. Patrick Kyangwali
RE: APPRECIATION MESSAGE
Dear Sir or Madam,
This comes to inform you that Uganda Red Cross Society (URCS) Kyangwali is very happy and appreciate your efforts of offering Kyangwali Refugee Settlement and the whole community a huge number of books in our Library (over two tons) the books will help students promote literacy in their villages, educate people to overcome the loneliness, develop reading culture and get more knowledge through reading these books. It is a good investment to these lonely and stateless refugees who were forced to leave their countries.
As the theme for this years Refugees Day stipulated ”they took my home, they can not take my future” this project has come at the right time and I would wish it is extended to other refugee settlements such as Nakivale, and Kyaka II and if possible to Democratic Republic of Congo and Sudan, our countries of origin.
We request your team to visit us to assess the impact we expect this project will create in our community and also that the USA students can learn from us.
I conclude by extending our sincere thanks to Justin E. Ralston and the team in USA, may the almighty God bless all those who contributed to the success of this project.
Uganda Red Cross Tracing Assistant Kyangwali Refugee Settlement, Congolese Refugee
Uganda: Kyangwali Refugee Camp - Between Hope and Despair
By: Rose Kyotungire Taremwa
This year July 2011, I had the opportunity to visit Kyangwali Refugee Camp in Hoima district, western Uganda under Refugees Read an NGO working with refugee camps in Uganda. The journey from Hoima district town to Kyangwali takes over almost 3 stressful hours on muddy bumpy roads. I arrived in the evening at about 6.20pm and found the newly refugees getting food including cooking oil, posho and beans all labeled from USA distributed by UNCHR.
I found out that the camp was established in the 1960s for Rwandan refugees but, at present, it is mainly home to Congolese, Sudanese and Rwandan refugees. The official number of the refugees from Congo, Burundi, Rwanda and Sudan is between 20,000 and 25,000 in the camp although the refugees themselves say they are over 30,000.
The camp shocked me. I grew up watching human suffering on television, with camps that were bare, overcrowded, full of tents and very temporary. Kyangwali does not stand out from the surrounding area. Villages, huts and agricultural land dot the 91- square kilometer camp. In fact, were it not for a road block barrier at the entrance and the guard huts, I would hardly have known where the border was.
At first glance, it is peaceful, organized and even prosperous by local rural standards. There are schools including primary and secondary schools, a few trading centers and weekly markets. The land is plentiful; the camp is huge. On my first evening, I took a walk around with Justin E. Ralston, the director and founder of refugees read with Jimmy a Congolese refugee who is a volunteer with Uganda Red Cross and was soon leading a troop of excited children. People were hospitable, approachable and eager to meet me.
I spent two nights and a day at the camp but it was enough to radically change my life. I witnessed the signs of disease and malnutrition and, more importantly, was able to talk to some of the refugees. They spoke of terror back in their home country, but also in the camp, and their daily struggle to survive due to lack of status outside the camp.
A lot of them have no identification from their birth country and rely on the camp IDs. I noticed that leaving the camp is hard as it is to get back to the camp. While I entered virtually unchecked, my fellow taxi passengers had to show papers, answer questions to the guard on duty.
Kyangwali's isolation, the restricted movement of its inhabitants, their lack of official status and a limited network in the host country make it very hard for refugees to integrate and build a life for themselves. However, there are people building positive changes within the camp itself: Refugees Read, for example, is a leadership and education empowerment organization currently improving the library conditions at Kyangwali Secondary School and supporting co-curricular activities such as football, netball and volley ball. There is a huge need of offering education opportunities to children and improving the school`s standards. Karim Ishmael- a Congolese refugee deaf student studying at the school of the Deaf Ntinda is supported by Justin E. Ralston himself. There is a great need for sponsorship of children so as to realize their future dreams
With no plumbing or electricity in either of these settlements, most refugees live in mud huts barely high enough to stand. They share the space- sometimes no more than nine square meters- with up to six family members. Each day, water must be brought from the nearest pumps, sometimes requiring a trip of up to 5 kilometers each way and usually done on foot by girls and women but the absence of any medical support or road network within the camp, as well as the threat of displacement and violence, prevents any long-term stability for the refugees
I was told by one of the students that the camp has no doctors. There is a basic health center but it's as good as useless. It has no treatment facilities.
The following morning, Justin E. Ralston, Leif Frey, Okello Micheal, Charles, Jimmy, Peter ,I and other students spent the whole day painting the library at Kyangwali Secondary School that house tones of books shipped in from the USA under refugees read .It was a great experience indeed. The only said secondary school in the camp is in a sole state with no enough classrooms, dormitories, teachers and no laboratory. In my opinion, building the schools` capacity would be the priority so that many students and teachers can benefit. I had a chance to interact with one of the teachers who spoke my native language and he narrated to me how the school needs a lot of support from both the government and donors. The school is very understaffed and teachers had gone for 3 months without being paid their salaries. From my understanding students go to school to literally pass time.
Justin and I met the current OPM Commander for the camp and he was very happy with the wok done under refugees read. He told us many stories and the captivation gone was about the current president of Rwanda His Excellency Paul Kagame. He narrated to us the times Kagame lived in the camp, having been the best student of mathematics and that he was a very good footballer. In fact, if we had time, he was ready to show us his school file. I encouraged him to invite the president of Rwanda to visit the camp and experience those early memories. Actually, I learned that the biggest mango tree in the camp in the middle of Kyanwali Trading Centre was planted by Kagame`s father. It was unfortunate that I couldn’t get any fruit for eating. May be next visit.
During my short stay, I came across over 4 students who narrated to me their ordeal horrible and frightening stories that have become my permanent memories including loss of their loved ones, the torture they have gone through, life style in the camp etc. One of the vivid story was one from a student of 14 years called (name removed for confidentiality reasons) a Congolese refugee whose grandparents hailed from Rwanda. He told me how people shot his dad and raped his mother in his presence. He is a bright student who hopes to become a doctor despite having no science subjects and teachers at the only secondary school in the camp, the famous Kyangwali. Tears rolled down his chicks as he asked me if I could do much to find him a sponsor to realize his dream of being a doctor. He lives with his mother in a grass thatched house. The mother sells ground nuts in a nearby market to earn a living in an effort to support her family. I actually did shopping that day before I returned to Kampala only to be told by HIM that a lady I bought groundnuts from was his mum after his descriptions of his mum’s looks. Since they come from war-affected regions and schooling environments that were often disrupted, resettled refugees have specific needs and barriers that they must overcome in regards to education.
Education is a basic human right for all children, and it is especially important that refugee children receive schooling because it creates a sense of security and hope, which is often lacking in refugee settings. “After times of conflict, educational activities play a very important role in helping to reintroduce a sense of normalcy and routine into the lives of children and adolescents.” Educating refugees has multiple benefits and an immediate widespread impact on society. Education teaches self-reliance, helps create the human social capital needed for development, and plays a fundamental role in providing both physical and psychosocial protection to the child. Education is also critical for refugee children, so that they can be informed about health and hygiene.
In general, refugees value education and view it as an important tool for ensuring future success if only they would get proper access to studying.
The real question, however, beyond the dangers, discomforts and insecurity, is: what happens next? If there is nothing to go back to and no provision is made for you to be able to live outside the camp, what happens? The refugees I talked to all wanted to go back home, despite there being no family, land or resources awaiting them and fear of insecurity. But what of the children? Those who are too young to remember where they are from, those who have known nothing beyond the camp: what future is there for them?
Am I allowed to I say I enjoyed my visit to Kyangwali? I laughed with children, I connected with adults and heard some entrancing stories, I hiked through a beautiful part of Uganda and I enjoyed a wonderful welcome and great hospitality. More importantly, I learned, I was able to ask any questions I wanted and share a little of the experience. One can have both sadness and joy.
Most of the members of organization, refugees read, have been to Kyangwali and overall they describe their visits as wonderful experience, inspirational and life changing, if only because it dispelled their preconceived ideas of what a refugee camp was like. I felt a sense of quiet, in the seemingly calm environment, being there, a sense of simplicity. Then, after dinner, as the stars came out and the world went dark, save for the few flickering candles to lighten up the place.
But somehow being around these refugees and seeing their determination to persevere despite having lost almost everything: their loved ones, their homes, their freedom, their country, has inspired me more than any motivational stories or speakers ever have and likely ever will.
Many thanks to Mr. Justin E. Ralston for the great work being done in both Kyangwali and Kiryandongo Camps, your family, Leif and his family plus a few existing donors and well wishers.
For God and My Country. Rose